I’ve been putting off writing this. It’s a bit late compared to when some of it happened. Sorry about that.
Where I left off was with a new floor and the chickens living in the barn loft. Not where I wanted them to be but that is where they were. Pooping thru the floor onto whoever and whatever was below them. But whatever. It’s not like I was using the loft for anything. Or the barn for that matter. Anyway…
The first step was to drag all the stall walls in that I thought I was going to need. At first I figured to return the barn to a similar configuration to what it was before the new floor. By that I mean a central hallway with enclosed areas on the north and south sides of the barn. Looking over the stall panels I had taken out of the barn and one that came from an old grainery I had helped a
friend take apart, it looked like only minor modifications would be needed.
Once everything was inside, the cutting began. Cut cut cut, drill drill drill. A little head scratching and some DEEP thinking and I had a wall. A little screen to keep every one inside who belongs inside and a those who need to stay out, out. The results felt good. Add a door and reset the old slide lock from what was the goats pen and voila! It’s a coop. Well. Not really. But well on it’s way to being one.
In the past, out in Montana actually, I came to the conclusion that birds need to sit on branches not milled lumber. Why spend money on lumber for them to roost on? Especially since their feet are designed to wrap around round things, not rectilinear things. (oooo, big word) Back once upon a time, I dragged an entire tree into the coop for the birds. It filled most of the space. The birds seemed to like it even if it was damn near impossible to get to the back of the coop.
For whatever reason, Ohio, or at least this part of Ohio, doesn’t have the kind of trees that I used back then. I think it was Cottonwood. Regardless, I knew I needed to support the roosts from both ends and rather than attach anything to the block wall,
which would be an instant limitation, I just took some old rusty range fencing that has been laying around here for a while and stapled it to the wall’s top plate. The branches could then span from the grainery wall across to the fencing on either the north or west walls. My next step was to tie all the branches to the fencing and at every point where the meet each other. This turns the branches into a coherent matrix and spreads the weight of the birds thru the entire system. It was still a bit too cold for the birds with daytime temps in the 40’s and below freezing at night so the heat lamps went up into the ceiling as well. I brought the old nest box in and placed it beneath the eastern window. I called that finished. Birds will roost in the western windowless section and eat/drink/lay eggs in the eastern part with 2 windows.
It was finally time to get the birds out of the loft. And anyone who knows livestock, especially chickens, knows that they don’t like change. They quickly get used to their “World” and that’s that. Our challenge was to get 42 birds down thru the opening in the floor. Initially the plan was to grab them and box them up and carry them down to the coop. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? They of course would have none of that. The first step in any case was to clear out the loft of everything they could hide behind. Some time ago an acquaintance gave me a pile of chinchilla cages. I quickly learned that the size requirements for chinchillas is different enough from that of chickens that the cages are almost completely useless for my purposes. So, into the loft they went. And right back out. We shifted a few other things around figured we were ready to start catching them. Leah had suggested that they might just jump down thru the hole and we wouldn’t need to do anything at all. Wishful thinking at its best. But as it turns out, not too terribly far from what we ended up doing. We got 2 large sheets of cardboard, formed a wall and herded the birds over towards the hole. When stressed, chickens do 3 things. 1. They run blindly in whatever direction their head happens to be pointing. 2. If possible the flock up because being with your buddies as the GIANT MONSTER COMES AT ME is somehow a logical survival trait for them. and finally 3. They void their bowels fairly explosively. So what we had was a mass of terrified birds running in all directions at once while at the same time trying to get with their flock, all of whom were blasting chicken shit all over the place. As we neared the opening in the floor with our moving wall, the birds proceeded to crowd the edges and fly across the opening but not go down into it. THERE BE DRAGONS DOWN THERE. i made the decision on the fly and just started pushing them off the edge. it’s a fairly well know fact that chickens can’t really fly all that well if at all. No one, of course, has bothered to tell the chickens that. As soon as they realized that there was nothing under their feet, they start flapping for their lives. The weird part is how they will hook their head over whatever ledge they can find and try to flap/lift themselves back up. Of course this doesn’t work for the vastest majority of them because their wings can’t support their body weight. But it doesn’t stop them trying. Down thru the hole they went. Splat on the floor below. It took us about 5 minutes to get them all because some of them are only a tiny bit smarter than the rest and they were able to worm their way into all the littlest nooks and crannies we weren’t able to seal off. It was fairly simple to move the now shell shocked birds into the coop.
After about 5 minutes of double checking with each other that they were still alive, the birds settled down to their new coop. Suka, the cat, wants to meet them of course. Most likely meet and eat them. Or at least meet and play with them to death. The 3 cats who lived here before didn’t mess with the chickens at all. To the point that one of them would go into the nest boxes to sleep. Good kitty. Maybe it’s something about a bird at least as large as them fighting back that they didn’t like. Suka will get her opportunity to meet a raging hen or a rooster defending his girls, just not quite yet. One last thing to take care of, under the roosts needed some sort of litter to protect the cement from all the crap that was about to come out of the birds. I picked up some pine shavings from the local farm supply and was in the process of spreading it around when it happened. I had just kicked a large pile of the shavings into the back corner of the coop and the birds panicked as they are wont to do. Only this time one of them had her head pointed directly towards the coop door. Out she went, right between my feet. Mucka, of course became instantly interested. I think it has something to do with the fear response. Dogs, my dogs anyway, only really chase animals that run from them. Which is exactly what he did. By the time I got outside they were about 100 yards into the woods behind the coop. To his credit, when i called for him to stop and return, he did. Chickens don’t
have the same instinct. She just kept on going. I fantasize about the legend the flock will whisper among themselves about THE ONE WHO LEFT. Living off the land out in the deep dark wood. Free from the GIANT MONSTERS (Leah and I) and their SMALLER MONSTERS (the dog and cat). With the temperatures still going below freezing and the hen only 7 weeks old, chances are that she froze to death. But who knows, maybe she lives on out there. One can only speculate without the body as proof.
With the birds in their new home, Leah and I were able to go out to California to spend some time with her family. She hadn’t seem them in years and I had only her stories about them. I will never understand what it is that drives folks to live in Southern California. It is a desert after all, only now it’s a desert with about 850 million people in it. At this point, LA county is one giant city. Freeways going every which way. About half of those 850 million people feel as though it’s their life’s mission to BE SOMEWHERE ELSE as
fast as they possible can. And I thought Colorado had the fastest drivers on the road. Doing the speed limit can get you killed out there. I got to hook up with one of my cousins, which was awesome. Got a chance to go out into the desert proper. A desert in bloom is a magical place. Of course the last 6 months have seen about 1/6 of the normal rainfall and the snow is gone from the
mountains. It’s going to be a rough time for the fire fighters out there. Just today, I heard on the news that a 15 square mile out of control fire had burned it’s way to the sea just NW of LA. And it’s not even fire season yet.
Upon returning home, I knew I needed to solve the dog v chicken issue. Exposure therapy if you will. I’ve had trouble with dogs (both my own and other peoples) in the past. That was 10 years ago and I’ve slowed down a little since then. Scolding a dog after the fact does little to curb negative behavior and the notion that tying a dead chicken to the dog will solve anything makes no sense to me. It’s only really worked when I was able to catch them in the act. This time I thought I would try something a little different. I took Mucka into the coop with me. just to see what he did. As it turn out he did exactly nothing. All bets are off once the birds are our of the coop and running around. (Remember the running animal thing) So for now, we are at an impasse. It’ll work out in the end I’m sure. After all he is a good dog, mostly…